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StudentsFirstNY Weekly Education News Roundup: October 13-18, 2013

In this week's education news: a study finds teacher evaluations improve teacher quality, Mayor Bloomberg encourages more charter schools to open in NYC, and state education officials respond to over-testing concerns.

New Study Finds Teacher Evalutions Improve Teacher Quality
The New York Times // October 17, 2013

New York City begins using teacher evaluations this school year, but cities such as Washington D.C. have been using a teacher evaluation system for several years. Michelle Rhee, the CEO and founder of StudentsFirst, helped establish Impact, a contentious student evaluation program for the entire D.C. public school system.

A new study finds that Impact is helping improve teacher quality in Washington D.C.'s public schools. According to David Leonhardt in The New York Times, the findings show that in a large public school system such as NYC's, teacher evaluations are raising teacher quality and weeding out low-performing teachers:

The study found that Impact caused more low-performing teachers to leave the school system than otherwise would have been expected. The program also seemed to improve teaching quality - as measured by classroom observations and test scores - of teachers with both strong and weak evaluation scores.

"High-powered incentives linked to multiple indicators of teacher performance can substantially improve the measured performance of the teaching work force," conclude the researchers, Thomas Dee of Stanford University's Graduate School of Education and James Wyckoff of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. Evaluation programs, they add, can bring "substantive and long-term educational and economic benefits" both by “avoiding the career-long retention of the lowest-performing teachers and through broad increases in teacher performance."

Eva Moskowitz Should Be Considered for Schools Chancellor
New York Daily News // October 14, 2013

Diane Ravitch, an anti-education reform advocate, mockingly suggested that Bill de Blasio should choose Eva Moskowitz for NYC schools chancellor if he's elected mayor. But in an opinion article for the New York Daily News, the Manhattan Institute's Charles Sahm says the off-hand suggestion should be a serious consideration for both mayoral candidates.

Moskowitz, a member of the StudentsFirstNY Board of Directors, founded the Success Academy network of charter schools. On the Common Core tests, 82 percent of Success Academy students passed the math standards and 58 percent past the English standards, well above state and NYC averages. Sahm argues that Moskowitz gets results that the City should try and replicate in all public schools:

Instead of denigrating Moskowitz, de Blasio should be asking: What lessons can we learn from the success of her schools? How can we incorporate the basic tenets of her schools - more instructional time, high-quality teachers, use of data to drive instruction and extra help for those students who fall behind, parent involvement, a culture of discipline, rigor, and high expectations - in all schools? (Some of these reforms would require modifications to the teachers' contract, but perhaps de Blasio could convince the union to reimagine what is possible.)

Bloomberg Administration Encourages Charter Schools to Open or Expand
New York Post // October 14, 2013

Before leaving office, the Bloomberg administration is encouraging 23 charter schools to open or expand in NYC. The Department of Education wants to continue expanding school choice for parents and students while it is still possible. Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has indicated he would significantly slow charter school growth if elected.

As reported by the New York Post:

Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott defended the 11th-hour actions as smart, sound planning to provide parents and kids with more options, and reward achievement.

"Over the last decade, we've transformed the landscape in city schools, giving parents more high-performing options than ever before and delivering historic gains for our students," said DOE spokesman Devon Puglia.

"When public schools — be they district or charter — are delivering resounding results, we want to ensure their success continues."

Mayor Bloomberg Must Approve New Charter Schools Now
New York Observer // October 17, 2013

Mike Bloomberg's 12 years as New York City mayor will come to an end on December 31st. From an education standpoint, his tenure is most notable for the large expansion of charter schools across the city. Today, there are 183 charter schools operating inside city limits.

Democrat Bill de Blasio is the leading candidate to replace Bloomberg as mayor, and de Blasio has made it clear that he will support the City's public schools at the expense of the growing charter school movement. In an editorial, the New York Observer says that the Bloomberg Administration must move now to approve as many charter schools as possible before the end of the year:

Make no mistake about it: Under a Mayor de Blasio, the charter revolution would come to an end, and it will be back to business as usual in public education - all the more reason to get moving on new or expanded charters right now.

NY Education Officials Hear Concerns on Over-Testing
The Wall Street Journal // October 18, 2013

New York State education officials have acknowledged concerns from parents, teachers, and principals that students not be over-tested. The tests are a key measure for New York state's teacher evaluation law, which New York City is implementing this year.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a recent statement from New York Education Commissioner John King Jr:

State Education Commissioner John King Jr. told superintendents, parents and teachers Tuesday at a meeting in Oyster Bay that the state had tried over the summer to make sure districts knew that pretests weren't required.

"We are worried about the climate of potential over-testing and too much test prep," he said. He said districts should try to do the minimum amount of testing necessary to figure out whether students are learning. "To the extent that we have assessments that are not contributing, we should try to eliminate them," he said.

In New York, the law says about 40% of the teacher-grading systems must be based on various test scores or other measures of gauging whether students learned in class, and the remaining 60% based on more subjective measures, such as classroom visits by principals.

Teachers Union and Education Advocates Collaborate on Teacher Conferences
GothamSchools // October 18, 2013

The Coalition for Education Justice and the United Federation of Teachers are working together on how to utilize funds for extra parent-teacher conferences. The NYC Department of Education is setting aside $5 million for extra parent-teacher conferences specifically for students with lower performance on state test scores.

GothamSchools reports:

Details of how the conferences will be implemented were emailed to principals Wednesday night. The city will provide schools with money based on the number of fourth through eighth graders who received level 1s and 2s on last year's state exams. Schools will be free to use that money to help schedule 30-minute meetings with parents of those students, and potentially school-wide explanatory meetings as well.

Those involved with the negotiations said that could mean paying teachers for after-school or Saturday sessions, rearranging tutoring services to free up some teachers during scheduled school time, or another scheduling configuration. In an unusual move, schools will be also be able to request sending students home after an additional half day, as most schools already do for parent-teacher conferences.

Stark Difference Between de Blasio and Lhota on Charter Schools
New York Post // October 13, 2013

Last week, thousands of charter school supporters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to focus the mayoral debate on the stark education policy differences between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota. After the march, the focus goes toward shining a light on these stark differences.

In an editorial, the New York Post writes that the choice for mayor could not be more clear:

One candidate would kill charters, while the other would increase them. Choices do not get more clear than this.

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